Improving community services and early prevention is key as children suffering from severe mental health problems are being sent for treatment far away from where they live, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
Figures obtained from NHS England under a Freedom of Information Act by the BMA revealed 69% of child and adolescent hospital admissions were classed OOA (out of area) in 2016-17, up from 57% the previous year, suggesting a lack of beds to accommodate mental health crises.
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The number of patients admitted for child and adolescent mental healthcare fell by 15 per cent, from 4,485 in 2015-16 to 3,817 last year, BMA News analysis of the figures suggests.
BMA East Midlands council regional chair and GP Peter Holden, where OOA bed use rose 29 per cent, said one of his CAMHS patients had to travel three hours from Derbyshire for expert care. Chair of the BMA committee on community care Gary Wannan described the new figures as ‘alarming’.
‘These figures show, alarmingly, that well over half of patients are being placed out of area at a time when they are at their most vulnerable,’ he said. ‘It can be an incredible wrench for children to leave their homes and being based far away is not going to help a young person in crisis.’
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NHS England said it plans to increase CAMHS beds from this year in areas where shortages force patients to travel long distances but cut them in others. It also hopes to ‘significantly reduce’ admissions by ‘ramping up’ community services, an update on its review of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) from January.
Chief executive of YoungMinds Sarah Brennan said: ‘For young people who are hospitalised, being separated from loved ones doesn’t help with recovery and makes a frightening situation even worse. It’s also extremely distressing for parents who can’t easily visit their child because of long travel distances.
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‘It's crucial that there are continued improvements not only to inpatient care, but also to community services that help prevent young people becoming so ill that they need to be hospitalised. That is why it’s vital that the next government guarantees that services are properly funded. Draining money from early intervention just stores up problems for the future.’
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